Corvette racing has entered a new chapter in the annals of GM motorsports history with the introduction of its GT2 competition Corvette C6R. This most recent edition of the C6.R was introduced at the ALMS Mid Ohio event, where the veteran team lobbed an opening salvo at the competition by scoring a Second Place finish in class. Two weeks later at Elkhart Lake, the first two class positions went to the BMW team in a wave-by pass under yellow that left the rest of the field battling for the final position on the podium. Johnny O'Connell, piloting Corvette Racing's No. 3 car, made a late-race pass to take a hard-fought Third in class.
With these early successes under its belt, the team was looking forward to another successful outing in the next race, held at Mosport in Canada. Saturday morning's practice session was beset by occasional rain and shrouded in a descending fog that completely obscured portions of the track. The afternoon brought another hour-long practice followed by a two-minute qualifying round. The BMWs picked up where they left off at Elkhart and took the first two positions on the starting grid. A Porsche GT3 claimed third, while Oliver Gavin was fourth in the No. 4 C6.R, and Johnny O'Connell took fifth in No. 3.
The weekend brought near-constant rain interspersed with bouts of sunshine early on, leaving competitors without any clear idea of how conditions would develop. The Corvette team usually employs a very effective satellite-based system to monitor the threat of precipitation. But the system was not effective in this part of Canada, so the engineers were essentially flying blind when it came to the weather. The team would be forced to start the race prepared for any climatic scenario-and adapt as best it could along the way.
The pre-grid ceremonies celebrating Johnny O'Connell's record 100th ALMS start featured a bagpipe marching band, underscoring the multinational makeup of the field. The green flag fell right on time and the prototypes sped away, leaving the GT2 competitors to sort out who would dominate the 2 hour, 45-minute event. Mosport's beautiful 2.3-mile circuit features minimal fencing, so it's an excellent place to set up camp, start a roaring fire, and settle in for an entertaining weekend of racing.
The BMWs showed great speed in qualifying but fell off the pace shortly after the start. Ollie Gavin soon took over the class lead, with Johnny O'Connell right behind. The Risi Competizione Ferrari 430s have always done well at Mosport (in fact, the team had never lost there prior to 2009), and they weren't about to let the "new kids on the block" take control. Jamie Melo quickly split the two Corvettes, relegating O'Connell to third. This lead group was closely followed by Patrick Long in one of the Flying Lizard GT2 Porsches, but the German cars didn't appear to be a serious threat in class.
With the Ferrari pushing, and O'Connell intent on regaining second, Gavin certainly had his hands-and mirrors-full. The first pit stop came under yellow toward the end of the first hour, when the lead group ducked into pit lane together to change drivers. Jan Magnussen subbed for O'Connell, and Olivier Beretta jumped in for Gavin.
We should note here that the Corvette team is at a disadvantage during refueling. Due to the poorer fuel mileage of the environmentally friendly cellulosic E85 used in the C6.R, it takes more fuel to cover the same distance as a car running on gasoline. The ALMS has attempted to address this disparity by allowing E85-fueled cars like the Corvette to carry 110 liters of fuel, as opposed to the mandated 90 liters for gas cars. However, the refueling rigs used by the Corvette team (and mandated by the ALMS) are incapable of dispensing 110 liters of E85 as quickly as the other teams can deliver 90 liters of gas. The result is that it takes the Corvette team longer to accomplish a complete refueling procedure. And since ALMS rules dictate that the crew cannot touch the car for a tire change until refueling is complete, the Corvettes' pit stops are effectively legislated to be longer. This unfair advantage allowed the Risi Ferrari to take over the class lead during the first pit session at Mosport.
Other than that, the cars picked up where they left off, circulating the Canadian circuit in tight formation. Though Beretta was finally able to pass Ferrari driver Pierre Kaffer, he couldn't put any meaningful distance between the two cars. Magnussen, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how to put his Corvette back into the mix. Mosport offers some pretty quick twists and bends, along with a back straight amenable to extended applications of full throttle. So while there are plenty of opportunities to pass, the problem is finding a logical place to do it without pushing another car off the track. Magnussen could only be patient and wait for an opening.
Because the ALMS field is made up of three different classes of cars, constant passing is the rule of the day. At one point, the No. 37 LMP1 prototype came up on the dueling pair of Kaffer and Beretta and passed them both. Unfortunately the move pushed Beretta off the racing line and into the "marbles" (spent rubber piled up on the outside of the racing surface), causing him to lose traction and skid off course. This bobble gave Kaffer a perfect opening to regain the lead, with Magnussen tucking in right behind him.
Coming in for the last pit stop, the Corvette only needed about 10 liters of fuel, allowing for an abbreviated refueling exercise. This allowed the Dan Binks-led crew to get Magnussen back out ahead of the Ferrari. Kaffer, trying to take advantage of his car's warm tires, tried hard to pass Magnussen, who was defending on cold rubber. Magnussen prevailed in a side-by-side, fender-rubbing Turn 3 struggle and squeaked out ahead of the Risi car.
The race fell to the checkers with Magnussen prevailing despite a few last-lap lunges by the Ferrari. Kaffer took Second, while Beretta filled out the podium with a well-driven-albeit slightly disappointing-Third. The Corvettes also picked up the Green Challenge win for the cars completing the most laps, at the fastest pace, while delivering the smallest carbon footprint.
As Magnussen crossed the finish line, the Corvette team erupted into joyous celebration at its first victory in GT2. The cars ran flawlessly, the drivers couldn't have piloted a better race, and the crews gave a command performance. Next up is Petit Le Mans-just the type of endurance battle the GM team has been training for-and winning at-for 10 years. Now that the rest of the GT2 field knows what to expect from the new Corvettes, things should be even more exciting.-GPJ
Tweaking The GT2 Corvette
With the introduction of its new GT2 car, Corvette Racing has massaged the C6.R shape into a next-generation factory racer. With a careful reading of the ACO Le Mans regulations, the team designed the car to be as slippery as was legally allowed. The regulations for the GT2 class require that the tires be covered from the middle of the hubs up, as viewed from the rear of the car. And indeed, that is the way Corvette engineers designed the profile of the new car's fenders.
However, ACO officials now insist that they meant for the tires to be covered from mid-hub up when viewing each fender from the rear. This minor difference in interpretation left the rear aspect of the new C6.R's front tire showing a little more than the ACO would allow.
In the end, the disparity precipitated a change in the bodywork of the new Corvette race car. The team had to rivet a 10-inch form onto the bodywork, sticking out from the back of each front fender. These appendages will likely be maintained at least through the end of the current racing season.